Why is Walking Painful?

Humans were built to walk. We have two legs for a reason, let’s use them! According to recent research, most of us log about 6,000 steps each day. That said, we should be striking closer to 10,000 steps per day. But how can someone do so if they have pain with walking? In my experience, the answer is simply…. by training correctly for it. Today we’ll review:

  • Why is walking painful?
  • How to train for pain-free walking
  • Why It’s Painful

I’ll admit, I’m always watching people walk. Even outside the clinic, I can’t help but analyze the gait of those around me. Walking is such a basic function and yet so many of us can’t walk without pain.

For most of the patients I see in our clinic and those I see in the community, I can boil poor/painful walking patterns down to one or more of four reasons:

  1. Weakness in core/trunk muscles
  2. Weakness in hip muscles
  3. Tightness around the knee
  4. Tightness in the calf and/or foot

The most common reason for pain while walking is simply weakness of important muscles that help stabilize our joints while we’re moving. When we take steps, the muscles in our trunk and hips turn on to keep our spine and pelvis from jostling side to side. In the absence of strength, these muscles don’t maintain stability and forces bleed into joints like the low back and knees.

You may have never thought of walking as an exercise that requires strength, but it does! What else do you do 6,000 – 10,000 times each day? If you incorrectly lifted a box from the floor thousands of times each day, would you expect to feel well afterwards? The same stands true for walking – we must walk with good form, otherwise our joints take a beating.

Tightness in the muscles that attach to our knee and ankle also play a role in how well we walk. If we can’t fully straighten our knees or if the calf and ankle muscles aren’t stretchy enough to allow full range of motion, we find other less efficient strategies to walk. This often leads to poor quality of our steps and then they’re loaded 6-10 thousand times each day, seven days a week, 52 weeks per year.

What To Do About It

Here are four simple tests:

Can you hold this position for 30 seconds?

Can you hold this position for 30 seconds?

Does your knee straighten fully?

Can you touch the wall with your knee with your heel on the ground?

If you had trouble with any of the above, you’re likely going to have difficulty walking perfectly. This isn’t to say you have pain – that often comes years after walking with a poor pattern. Each above test is also an exercise! If you had trouble with one or more, practice them and recheck in two weeks.

Check out this video, where I cover in detail the exercises above:

In summary, walking is our most basic function. As we age, the risk of losing mobility and strength increases. Keep tabs on your own health and use these simple checks to gauge your own fitness.

  • Walking is a high volume exercise which few of us are exempt
  • Use the above tests to see where you’re deficient
  • Practice the tests you have difficulty with

If you’d like a more customized approach or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here.

Choi, Bernard CK, Anita WP Pak, and Jerome CL Choi. “Daily step goal of 10,000 steps: a literature review.” Clinical & Investigative Medicine 30.3 (2007): 146-151.



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